Father and son arrested over wildfire that forced thousands to flee homes

9 December 2021, 09:24

Lake Tahoe wildfire
A father and son have been arrested accused of starting the fire which destroyed homes and a ski resort near Lake Tahoe, California (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File). Picture: PA

The two men are accused of starting the fire near Lake Tahoe which laid waste to 346 square miles of forest in August.

A father and son were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of starting a massive California wildfire that destroyed many homes and forced tens of thousands of people to flee Lake Tahoe communities earlier this year, authorities said.

David Scott Smith, 66, and his son, Travis Shane Smith, 32, are accused of reckless arson in a warrant issued before formal charges are filed, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office said.

Mark Reichel, the attorney for both men, said they were arrested on Wednesday afternoon and that reckless arson means starting a blaze by accident but “to such a degree that it was considered reckless”.

Authorities allege they caused homes to burn and people to be seriously injured in the fire that began in August.

California-Tahoe Wildfire Arrests
The blaze destroyed hundreds of square miles of forest near Lake Tahoe, California (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

The Caldor fire scorched more than 346 square miles from east of Sacramento to the Nevada border, threatening ski resorts and other prominent recreational areas.

The fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and other buildings while crossing a mostly remote forested area of seasonal cabins.

The fire crossed through three northern counties, destroyed much of the small community of Grizzly Flats and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate the resort town of South Lake Tahoe before it was contained in October. Five people were injured.

It was one of two massive fires last summer that for the first time in modern history crossed the Sierra Nevada range.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson provided few details about the arrest of the Smiths, citing the investigation.

Reichel, the men’s lawyer, said: “They are absolutely 100% innocent.”

Reichel said he did not know details of the accusation, such as how authorities allege the fire was set.

He said Travis Smith is an electrician and was with his father near where the fire started. The son called 911 to report seeing flames, Reichel said.

The son made several 911 calls because the calls kept dropping in the rugged area, and both men also warned campers about the fire, Reichel said.

“Neither one has ever been in trouble with the law in their life. They’re very law-abiding people,” he said.

The pair have a scheduled court appearance on Friday, Reichel said.

“There has been no evidence submitted into a court subject to my cross-examination that proves any of the prosecution’s evidence yet. So I urge everyone to wait and hear what really happened before they form any opinions,” Reichel added.

The district attorney’s office said the case was developed with the US Forest Service, California’s firefighting agency and the California Department of Justice, with help from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s crime lab.

By Press Association

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Katherine Zappone appointment

‘Landing zones’ for deal on NI protocol, says Irish Foreign Minister

Coronavirus – Fri Jun 5, 2020

Omicron drives US deaths higher than Delta wave

Bridge collapses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Rescuers form human chain to save people from bus dangling off collapsed bridge in US

Biden

Biden visits scene of collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh

Joe Exotic

Tiger King star Joe Exotic sentenced to 21 years in prison

Kyle Rittenhouse

Judge approves agreement to destroy gun used by Kyle Rittenhouse

Vladimir Putin

Russia says US ignored its security demands over Ukraine

Taylor Swift

Man held after ‘crashing into Taylor Swift’s building and trying to get inside’

Bridge Collapse Pittsburgh

Human chain formed to rescue bus passengers after US bridge collapse

Ukraine Tensions

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Greece Whale

Divers bid to recue young whale stranded in shallow water off Athens

Belarus President

Belarus leader Lukashenko tells opposition leaders: ‘Repent and kneel’

Biden cat

Cat call: Bidens welcome new pet named Willow to the White House

Joe Biden

Road bridge collapses in Pittsburgh hours ahead of Biden visit

Thailand Oil Spill

Oil spill expected to hit beaches on Thailand coast

King Harald V of Norway

Norwegian king ill after meeting coronavirus-positive minister